The prevailing wisdom when it comes to the PlayStation Vita is that there aren’t many games to play on it. Not taking into account that Sony really doesn’t advertise or tout their powerhouse handheld gaming system very much these days, there honestly are plenty of great gaming experiences to be had if you are willing to give it a chance. There are plenty of development studios that have faithfully supported the platform without fail such as publishers like Bandai Namco. Their latest release for the VITA, A.W. : Phoenix Festa, is an action RPG based on a popular Japanese light novel — The Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water. While AW:FF isn’t a typical RPG, it compellingly combines dating sim mechanics and fast-paced combat against the backdrop of an original story-line based in the world of the light novel series.
You can choose to play as Ayato Amagiri or create your own character. If you do create your own character, you have three months instead of two weeks to find a partner for the Phoenix Festa.
I know you saw how I slipped in the fact that A.W.: Phoenix Festa is largely a dating sim but don’t let that deter you from the possibility of playing this game. There are some cool features in this trip back to highschool, Seidoukan Academy to be exact, where you can choose to play as the fan favorite of the novel series Ayato Amagiri or you can create an original character with her/his own special abilities. As a new transplant to the school, your goal is to get to know as many of your fellow classmates and school faculty as you can within two weeks and win the Phoenix Festa tournament. It is the first of a three tournament cycle that takes place once every three years and to enter, participants must be in pairs from the same school. This is where the dating sim comes into play as your partner will inevitably be the female that you are able to convince to start dating you. Just like when you were in high school.
You can convince your teammates to fight along side you during certain parts of the game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will agree to become your partner for the Phoenix Festa.
Gameplay in A.W.: Phoenix Festa is broken into three phases; the simulation phase, the adventure phase and the battle phase. During the simulation phase you get the chance to level up your main character through simulated training as well as doing some shopping with that one special person to get her a nice gift or just resting to replenish your health bar. The adventure phase of the game then allows you to carry out various tasks as you interact with the other characters in the game. This is where you will attempt to win the heart of the current object of your affections so your “playa” skills will need to be on point. Finally, the battle phase of the game is where you will get the opportunity to showcase your splendid skills with your Luxes (swords) in single or team battles during random encounters or sparing matches with the person you are trying to convince to date you and be your partner in the Phoenix Festa.
Between scenes, you will be taken to this screen which will allow you to take part in the activities that will allow you to level up, rest, create new Luxes (swords), take on jobs or go shopping.
The graphics in A.W.: Phoenix Festa are definitely superb and colorful anime visuals that takes the series off of the written page and brings it to life. The character designs are really cool and imaginative and help to differentiate each of the unique individuals that you will encounter during your time at Seidoukan Academy. The many backdrops that you will see during your interactions with your fellow classmates and teachers are very detailed and interesting. Where the visuals fall flat is in the designs of the arenas where the battles take place. They are quite bland and don’t seem to be a place where a young lady would like to be taken on a date…just sayin’.
You only have a certain amount of time to find a partner so its important to get to know those people who you will come in contact with every day.
The voice acting, the soundtrack and the sound effects are definitely a highlight of the game. Bandai Namco never disappoints when it comes to finding voice actors that have a true talent for bringing the characters to life and making them feel like real people facing real life challenges. In addition, you will often face off against some terrifying monsters and the groans, growls and howls that they let off can be quite exhilarating, especially if you are using a good pair of headphones. And not to be outdone, the musical score is on point as well. Being that this is a dating sim, the range of music that you will hear is sufficiently varied and does a good job of setting the tone no matter the situation that you are in.
The character designs are very unique and cool and fit the A.W. universe well.
While I am normally not a fan of games that are strictly dating sims (for obvious reasons if you’ve read my bio), I found that the aspect of the game that initially drew me into it in the first place, was the weakest portion of the game to me. The lions share of the game is spent interacting with the choices of teammate for the Phoenix Festa, which in turn makes the battle phases of the game feel like they were an after-thought. While you can spar with your classmates, they are usually not too difficult to win provided you have been training your character whenever the occasion permits, which is fairly often. Your encounters with various enemies is much the same and mainly consist of you dodging an attack and counter-striking. The battle segments were very underwhelming and I feel like an opportunity was missed to help make this game more appealing to a broader range of gamers.
You can spar with your classmates so that you can practice your fighting skills as well as to build report with them so that maybe they will agree to be your partner for the Phoenix Festa.
While my wife will probably disagree, I felt that I had no “game” when it came to trying to get the selected classmates to date me. No matter what I tried (gifts, special outings, sparing sessions), they would all turn me down. Your initial play-thorugh will probably end in failure but the nice thing is that upon starting a new game, you don’t lose any of the experience, weapons or items that you ended the previous game with, so at least there is that. A.W.: Phoenix Festa is available now via download for $39.99 so if you are into dating sims with a touch of combat, then give this one a try. The price tag might be a little steep for those of you that aren’t normally into this type of game so I would suggest waiting until you can get this one at a budget price.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Trying to date your highschool classmates 101.
Challenge - 5.0/10
Gameplay - 6.0/10
Design - 4.0/10
+ Great visuals and character designs
+ Awesome story based on A.W. novels
+ Fun, light-hearted dating sim
- Battle arenas are very boring
- Battle segments feel tacked on
David is a native of Denver, CO who grew up at a time when the video game craze was just getting a foothold in the consciousness of young kids and teenagers all over America. His earliest exposure...